After a year of designing wearable interfaces, I wanted to write down some of my thoughts. What does a device need to do for people to want to wear it? Provide them with genuine utility.
Some things to keep in mind while mass producing them:
- Utility cannot be limited to very specific and niche applications, since users are expected to wear them all day.
- I/O methods cannot be an obstruction while performing other day-to-day activity, especially when the device is not in use.
- Sensors cannot disregard different social situations. Something to continuously think about is how we might be collecting data that people consider private; any design is irresponsible when it ignores the severe repercussions of such collection.
- Weight cannot be ignored, as it becomes more pronounced when utility is limited.
- Network connectivity is not the user’s problem and setup time cannot be high. People carry more devices and networks see increased bottlenecks (both in terms of bandwidth and IP address space).
- Optimum power use is another critical issue. We are used to devices that work all day, some that even last an entire month without requiring an additional power source. Having to take intermittent breaks to restore power to a wearable device is unacceptable.
In terms of utility, current hardware is very exploratory, and a playground for enthusiasts. They are not compelling enough to warrant being given the label ‘consumer electronics’. At the very least, a consumer wearable device needs to understand context. We do not want more displays giving us the same information. We want, instead, for them to work in unison to give us only the most useful information. They have the chance to minimize our interaction with other devices. Bruce Tog gives a good rundown of use cases for wearables. There is also opportunity provided by their low access time: we could use them to conserve the energy we spend on micro-interactions and the manual activation of individual services at home, at work, during travel, and leisure. Built into them needs to be a sense of awareness that allows acceptable levels of automation in these environments. All that matters for them to be successful is for real user needs to be met.